When it comes to spiritual fervor, let your voices be heard ...

 

Do you sing in the car? If you don’t, you’re in the minority of Americans. According to researchers, 56 percent of people sing in their cars. I thought the number might even be higher. And what are people singing in their cars? A different study revealed that the most popular song to sing behind the wheel is “Achy Breaky Heart.” OK, that’s not actually true. That one is painful enough to listen to, let alone sing. No, occupying the top spot is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
 

Whatever your favorite jam, why not use some of the time at those stoplights to raise your voice? Nobody’s going to care if you can be heard, right? Well, that’s what one Canadian man thought when he was rocking out to the ’90s dance tune, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” The 38-year-old man was grooving to the beat when police suddenly pulled him over. Four, yes four, officers approached his car to ask him what he was doing. After a short exchange, they charged him with “Screaming in Public.” Is that really a crime? Hadn’t those officers ever gone to a sporting event? ANYWHERE? And just how bad was his singing?
 

The man’s fine was $117. He says he’s going to fight the ticket in court, though his wife might not be his best witness. She said that if it were his singing he was being fined for, it should have been $300!
 

The whole story just makes me smile, because here is a guy who is fully engaged. I certainly have done my share of singing with gusto while at the wheel, and still do, but typically if someone is coming up beside me, I bring it down a few notches. But not this guy. Apparently, the police were within earshot and he was still going after it.
 

Let that be a lesson for our church. Full engagement is a perfect description of what a Christ follower should look like. We should be giving it our all, at the top of our lungs, as it were. Our concern shouldn’t be for who is watching and our participation should not change based on what other people might think. Paul gives us our marching orders when he writes, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11). 
 

So, how’s your spiritual fervor?
 

There are many reasons we need to be attentive to the level of our spiritual engagement. For one, it is a measuring stick of the depth of our relationship with Christ. No one who is partially engaged is thriving in godliness. No one who is sort of committed is defeating sin with consistency. Spiritual health goes hand-in-hand with the level of our engagement.
 

Another reason engagement is so vital is because Pathway is a church that relies on the active participation of its people to do the work of the ministry. There are simply too many classes and groups to be taught, too much worship to be led, too many needs to be addressed with only a skeletal crew of volunteers. We need you to be engaged.
 

In a recent passage we’ve studied in “The Real Thing” sermon series through the letter of 1 John, we saw that the people of the church are at different places in their spiritual walk and that we have a unique contribution to make depending on what that stage is. Not everyone can accomplish the same thing as everyone else because we’re at different levels of maturity, age, energy, and more. You can’t look around at the sea of people and conclude that there are many other people who could do the job you might otherwise do and just as effectively. You have been uniquely gifted and have a unique contribution to make.
 

I wonder, if someone pulled up next to you in life, what would they observe? Would it be excessive engagement? If being fully committed to Christ was against the law, would you be fined? Let’s go after it, whatever is required, for the sake of our own growth, for the church and for Christ.

We've got plenty to celebrate — and lots more in store ...

As I write this first blog of the new year, I do so having recently read about the most memorable events in the U.S. in 2017. There have been many, from a new president, to an unusually active hurricane season, to the total solar eclipse. At Pathway, we could compile our own list of memorable events, from the opening of the new children’s wing, to dynamic worship experiences, to the many acts of outreach that have taken place. I am so thankful for Pathway Church and the impact it is making in many, many lives, including my own.

It is certainly enjoyable to look back, but what I like even more is looking ahead. I’m fascinated by what’s coming in many different realms. Did you know that you could soon own an air selfie camera? It is essentially a flying camera that you control to get your photos from whatever vantage point you desire. No longer will your solo picture-taking be limited by the reach of your arm. And how cool is the idea of surgery performed by robots or crashless cars? None of that is fantasy. As someone pointed out, “Fantasy is more like suggesting the Pirates will win the World Series.”

There are all sorts of exciting things we can watch for in our world, and the same thing is true in our church. As the year stretches before us, there is one that is clearly on our minds. It is the next phase of the building project. We have achieved a huge milestone with the opening of the new children’s wing, but if you’ve been on the Chippewa Campus, it is pretty obvious that there is more to come.

A trip from the children’s wing to the main lobby travels through the cavernous former administration area that presently features bare stud walls, cement floors and absent ceilings. Someone asked me the other day if that’s how it’s going to stay. I’m pleased to tell you that there is more in store. You also may have noticed some missing walls near the café and missing wing walls and ceiling tiles in the worship lobby. These also are signs of progress. They are the demolition and preparation phase of what will be a renovated lobby and café that will stretch seamlessly from the children’s entrance past the worship entrance and through the café area.

While some of the renovations will be completed in visible areas, others will take place behind closed doors. Examples include the former children’s area that is now being transformed into office spaces and a youth wing. Additional adult classrooms are being constructed as well. The remainder of the project is expected to be completed in the late summer or early fall of this year. We are excited for the enhanced ministry opportunities that will come along with it.

Of course, there are many things to anticipate beyond the building. I am very much looking forward to seeing how the Lord leads in the filling of some important staff positions. He has already blessed us with some new key leadership and, no doubt, He will continue to guide us.

I am also looking forward to launching a brand new sermon series the first weekend of January. I have been feeling pulled in the direction of preaching through 1 John and the timing has lined up perfectly. We’re calling the study “The Real Thing” because it makes it clear how our lives can be just that. It’s easy to get sidetracked or drift off course, but 1 John helps us get centered. I am praying that this series of studies will propel our church forward in ways that will deepen our faith and help us give it away.

For all we know about the future, there are other things we don’t. However, that is far from saying it is uncertain. We know that God has it in His hands and that He will lead us into it as we are faithful in seeking His direction and will for us. Please pray with me as this year begins that we would know the mind of Christ and apply it in all we say and do.

 

Would you like that super-sized?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Carolyn and I traveled to North Carolina to be with family. It was there I discovered a new restaurant called Cook Out. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this chain of restaurants that are found in abundance in the Southeast, but it was new to me. Now, since it was Thanksgiving and the turkey wasn’t the only thing that was stuffed, we didn’t actually eat at Cook Out (other than a delicious malt), but it afforded me the opportunity to learn something about the menu.  
 

What I discovered is that a single Cook Out tray (yours for only $4.99) is enough to feed a family of four. Or two Steelers’ linemen. Or one college student. For instance, you can order the big double burger, which you might think would come with a side of fries or some coleslaw. And yes, that would be an option, but why be so predictable? You actually get two sides with your burger and the sides are more like meals themselves. So, you could get the big double burger with sides of a chicken wrap and a quesadilla, or two bacon wraps, or a corn dog and chicken nuggets. And, of course, you’ll need a drink to wash all that down so you can choose from their two beverage sizes — large and huge. 
 

Now, the reason I bring up Cook Out is because it reminds me of the Christmas season at Pathway. You see, at Pathway, it is easy to find an entrée-sized outreach endeavor to participate in to show the love of Jesus. Maybe you’d select the recently completed Thanksgiving Kit outreach where Pathway volunteers provided all the food for 74 complete meal kits that served over 400 people. I have heard a number of stories of deeply grateful families who were blessed by your generosity. It would seem that with a little side of some other gift giving, your season could be complete. But if you consider the other choices this season, you will see that instead of little sides, the options are other entrée outreaches.  
 

There is Operation Christmas Child. The people of Pathway recently packed 525 boxes that are headed around the world to brighten the Christmas of needy children. A couple dozen volunteers also turned Pathway into a relay center, managing shoebox collections from another 38 churches and groups. In all, nearly 3,000 boxes passed through the Pathway lobby. 
 

Another entrée for your consideration is Project Angel Tree. You can select an angel from the tree in the lobby that will give you gift ideas or the clothing size of a particular child of a prison inmate. You can then purchase an item that will be delivered to them for Christmas. We anticipate that hundreds of gifts will be given by the Pathway family for Angel Tree children. 
 

Then there is Give Joy to the World. Through this project we hope to provide clean water to those in desperate need in Liberia. A single well can provide disease free water, as well as the living water of Jesus Christ for about 1,000 people. A small portion of the Give Joy proceeds also will go to advance our partnership in Orkarkar, Kenya. You can find more information about Give Joy at the table in the Chippewa lobby or at www.lifeatpathway.com. 

In this Christmas season, I encourage you to feast on the outreach opportunities that are right before you. Gluttony is usually a problem, but in this case feel free to fill your plate for the sake of those in need close to home and around the world.  

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Eating!

Pastor Jeff

Remember to ‘Fall Back’ — and go ALL IN, too …

Daylight Saving Time. There are few events in life that evoke as much joy on one occasion and angst the very next time it rolls around. You probably have mixed feelings about it yourself. Why? Because one time it grants you an extra hour of sleep, such as this November 5, and the very next time it steals that hour back from you and makes the early service at church that day the lowest attendance of the year!

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the idea of daylight saving time in 1784, though it was never enacted in his lifetime. The US didn’t give it a try until 1918. It’s puzzling that we call non-saving time “standard” time, despite the fact that standard time is only four months of the year. I ask you, “Is that really standard?”
 

Daylight saving time was instituted to save energy, especially in times of hardship such as WWI and energy crises. But there have been other interesting effects as well. In September of 1999, West Bank terrorists created time bombs they handed off to their Israeli counterparts. But because Israel had just switched back to standard time, the terrorists misunderstood the timing and the bombs exploded while they were being put in place, killing three terrorists instead of the dozens of people at their intended target.
 

There are also several instances of twins being born on “Fall Back Sunday” where the older was born just prior to 2 a.m. (the official time to change the clocks) and the younger was born after, but the birth certificate says the younger was actually born first. Or, if you choose to ride Amtrak overnight on Fall Back Sunday, you will come to a dead stop at 2 a.m. and sit for an hour so their trains arrive at the same time as other nights.

I’m sure we could debate the pros and cons of daylight saving time. Personally, I am for it every fall and against it every spring. There is no shortage of lawmakers who are proposing that we “Lock the Clock” and stop observing the annual adjustment. There are an equal number who want it left like it is.

Truthfully, the decision to leave it or change it doesn’t capture all that much of my attention, but what does is the boldness to make the change in the first place. It seems like it’s not all that big of a deal to borrow an hour that is given back before the year is through, but it is actually a huge change. It requires everyone to make a coordinated change at a precise moment. It was hard enough getting my two daughters to leave  for school at the right moment, let alone syncing up with the rest of the country!
 

Well actually, that’s part of the problem, too. The whole country doesn’t go on daylight saving time, let alone the whole world. So, the time difference between people changes. Then we’re told that the time change has an impact on people’s health and increases the number of fatal car accidents and more. That one little hour has a huge impact. Yet for the sake of other benefits, we make the change.
 

It seems to me that’s a great lesson when it comes to the church. How easy is it to look at a needed change and say, “That would be too much work,” or, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Whenever there is a hill to climb, it is far too easy to find an excuse for why we shouldn’t even attempt it.

It may be you have fallen prey to such a mindset in your life, or work, or ministry. It can be attractive because it seems easier and doesn’t require much of anyone. But what I would submit to you is that the easiest choice is rarely the best choice. As I think of the things we have attempted at Pathway, the ones with the biggest payoff have been the hardest ones. Just think of the effort and energy required to start the church 42 years ago. Certainly there had to be easier options, but a few handfuls of people said they didn’t want what was easy, they wanted to follow the Lord’s leading despite the cost. We could highlight so many other choices through the years that haven’t been easy, but taking them on resulted in advanced ministry.
 

Fast-forward to today. We recently opened a brand new children’s wing. It was not easy. There were significant costs of time, resources and finances. The same is true regarding the work left to do with the building remodel, the development of the Orkarkar project and providing new wells. But despite the required work, I can’t even imagine not going forward. The work is definitely worth the effort because of all that is required.

Sure we could have refused to go after these priorities, but the temporary ease would have left us outside of God’s will. Instead, we are at a place where we are making a difference in people’s lives literally around the world and where we have an exciting new ministry facility that will help us impact lives with the gospel and the Word. It is all possible because people have gone, and continue to go, ALL IN. It hasn’t been easy and it has required sacrifice, but it is totally worth it!

So, as you consider the Lord’s call on your life, understand that the way there probably isn’t the path of least resistance. But if you’ll make the effort and be willing to do the hard thing that might even seem undoable, you may just find the power to get it done and the favor of the Lord along the way. And that’s a path worth following. And should it require more time of you, you can get started well with your extra hour when we fall back!

 

Getting an early start on giving thanks …

Thank you.

 

That’s really all I want to say in this month’s installment of our Pathway newsletter. 

 

Thank you. 

 

Now, at this point some of you are thinking, “It’s not November. THAT’S Thanksgiving month. Poor Pastor Jeff has his dates mixed up.” I’m certainly not above getting my dates mixed up, but in this case I am aware that it is October. I just thought “Thank you” sounded better than “Trick-or-Treat.”  

 

Truth be told, I couldn’t wait until next month to express my appreciation for you. It has been bubbling up inside and I just wanted to let it out. As the Apostle Paul signs off his letter to the Romans he writes, “I rejoice because of you.” (Romans 16:19). I understand that sentiment.  

 

One of the reasons for my thanksgiving is your continued participation in the outreach bag ministry. Every month those familiar blue bags are placed on tables at the exits and every month they disappear only to return one week later filled with items to bless others in need. The most recent effort focused on providing school supplies to area elementary classrooms. The result was 41 large boxes packed with pencils, paper, erasers — and much more — delivered to some delighted teachers. And those teachers have been expressing their thanks as well. Incidentally, it was my privilege to be invited to pray at a recent school board meeting where I heard even more words of thanks for Pathway Church and your heart for blessing our community. 

 

Another reason I rejoice because of you, to use Paul’s words, was your response to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort. In one somewhat spontaneous offering, you gave nearly $11,000. On top of that, a team is traveling to the Houston area at the end of October to be a part of the restoration effort. Thank you.  

 

I also recently received a report from Living Water International on the wells funded by your ongoing gifts to Give Joy to the World. There have been approximately 70 such wells you have provided and we’ll be renewing that effort again through the upcoming Christmas season.  

 

Then there’s the 93 percent from our church family who jumped on board with the ALL IN initiative to provide a building to reach children in our community who need to learn about Jesus and help others grow more fully in Him. Then there are the efforts to advance the gospel partnership in Orkarkar, Kenya, spurring a community to come to life and thrive far beyond expectations. Then there are other endeavors to reach out through mission trips to Canada and Italy and the Dominican Republic. I could go on. 

 

There are lots of great things you’re engaged in that make me thankful, but none of those above is the biggest reason. The biggest reason I am thankful is because there is a compelling urgency in the heart of the people of Pathway to make a difference for good and for the gospel. The areas of service, such as those identified above, will likely change in the months and years to come. However, it is my deep and abiding prayer that our hearts will always be committed to following the lead of Jesus, looking beyond ourselves, meeting needs and advancing the good news of the gospel.  

 

I believe that is your desire and passion as well. And for that I say …

 

Thank you.

Children's Wing nearly ready - with much more to come ...

It looks like the exciting day is just around the corner! What day, you ask? Well, I’m not talking about the Steelers’ season opener, though that is definitely exciting. I’m not talking about the day the Pirates are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, though sadly, that might be soon, too. The day I’m talking about is the opening of the new children’s wing!

 

If all goes according to plan, we should be in the new building THIS MONTH! It has been fun to watch the progress being made since the day we broke ground a little over a year ago. We have come a long way. But truthfully, what has been even more exciting has been anticipating what is going to take place within the walls as we seek to see children come to faith in Jesus and grow deeply in their relationship with Him. One of the last times I was in the building, I had the opportunity to do a personal prayer walk and ask for the Lord’s blessing over all that will take place in each classroom, large-group space, special needs room and even the play area.

 

Occupying the children’s space will be a great blessing, no doubt. However, even without the first scripture being recited or song sung in the new area, we have already been blessed. The blessing began when a congregation of faithful, generous people chose to go All In to make this project a reality. That was no small undertaking.

 

The people of Pathway Church decided they weren’t just going to fund a project to build a building, advance a global partnership and provide clean water (the All In initiatives), but they were going to make a choice to follow the Lord more fully as individuals. As a result, nearly 93 percent of our congregation engaged financially. When the nationwide average among churches is closer to 65 percent, that is noteworthy, to say the least. As a result, it’s not just the shape of our facility that is changing, it is our very hearts. I rarely consider any aspect of the project without thinking of the sacrifice being made by so many to minister to the families of our community and the needy around the world. And for it all, I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to serve among you.

 

While we celebrate the completion of the children’s wing, it takes only one pass through the church lobby to realize there’s more to do. The plan from the start has been to complete the children’s area and then launch the remodeling aspects of the project. Those will start soon. They include renovating the lobby and café, as well as the existing children’s ministry area and the A-wing. If you don’t know where all those spaces are that’s OK, just know that when we are finished, we will have provided for adult classes, youth ministry areas and administration offices. The renovations will take about one more year to complete.

 

These are indeed exciting days at Pathway Church. We are grateful for where the Lord has brought us and where He is taking us as we continue to go All In.

Test the waters and experience God’s promises …

Summer is an interesting time at Pathway. It is a time for our annual lakeside baptism service, which was very powerful this year with several dynamic stories of God’s grace. It is a time for the excitement of SonZone and SonZone Jr., along with mission trips for our students.  It is also a time for vacations.  

I asked one vacationer where she had traveled, though the dark tones that highlighted her face gave it away. She said they’d been to the beach. I asked, “How was the water?” She said, “I don’t know, we didn’t go in. We don’t like sharks.” Now, it could just be me, but it seems that going to the beach, but not going into the water, would be like going to Kennywood, but not riding the Jack Rabbit, or going to Oram’s, but not getting a donut!  

 

However, I understand the fear of sharks is real. It seems it all started with the movie “Jaws” and the resounding adjacent bass notes (ba-dum, ba-dum) letting you know a shark was on the prowl and that someone was about to become a meal. And today we have the Discovery Channel’s recently concluded Shark Week that reminds us how deadly they are and how they can swim even faster than Michael Phelps. Sharks are ominous creatures and no one wants to get killed by one. The irony is, almost no one ever is.  

 

I did a little research and discovered there are only a handful of fatal shark attacks in the world in a year’s time. As odds go, that makes it an EXTREMELY rare event. “How rare?” you might ask. Well, let’s just say you are far more likely to die falling out of bed than being attacked by a shark. There’s a higher chance you’ll meet your demise by a falling coconut or a falling vending machine than a shark (Just when you thought it was safe to get a Mountain Dew …).  And if you ever find yourself at a vending machine under a coconut tree — run, do not walk away!  

 

As for the proverbial rarity of being struck by lightning, you are actually 75 times more likely to get zapped than bitten. You’re even more likely to be injured by a toilet than a shark! Who knew? In fact, one of the few things that is less likely than death by shark is winning the lottery. Well, that and the turnpike reducing toll prices. 

 

It’s fascinating to me that though swimming in the ocean is even safer than walking down the sidewalk, people have such a fear of it that it keeps them from the water on a beach vacation. They’d rather just dig in the sand, which ironically, is also statistically more deadly than shark attacks!  

The reason for avoiding the water is not because the threats are real, it is because they are perceived to be real. The truth is that perception is a powerful motivator in what we do and don’t do.  

 

The power of perception is one thing when it keeps us from vacation activities, but it’s something else altogether when it influences our behavior in more critical realms. What happens in your life when you perceive that your friends or work associates are not going to respond well to a word you might speak about your faith? For many of us it influences what we say, or may keep us from saying anything at all.  Or in relationships, our perceptions tempt us to draw conclusions that haven’t been tested anywhere else than in our own minds. As a result, we bail on the relationship before we ever give it a chance. 

 

And what about when it comes to fulfilling God’s unique and adventurous call? You might tell yourself you’re not capable of living that life (ba-dum), or that the work would be too hard (ba-dum), or that God can’t use you for something that big (ba-dum), or that you’re sure you’d mess it up in some way or another (ba-dum, ba-dum). So you resist God’s call and it’s no more rational than expecting death by shark — only for you it’s death by doubt.

 

What we need to do is tell ourselves the truth about who we are and whom we serve. When we perceive we’re in trouble if we venture into deeper spiritual waters, we need to remind ourselves that God is the One calling us there and that He promises to go before us. We need to remind ourselves that He is the One who carries on to completion the work He starts in us. We need to remind ourselves that what seems so deadly to us is probably just misinformation from our adversary intended to keep us on the shore and away from the action.  

 

It’s time to stop letting our false perceptions influence our behavior and steal the joy that comes from fully engaging in God’s plan for our lives. It’s time to stop letting our fears of what could be get in the way of swimming in the promises of God. 

 

It’s time to jump in.

The water’s fine! 

 

My travel wasn’t top flight, but conference was …

It was recently my great pleasure to represent Pathway Church at EFCA One, our denomination’s bi-annual national conference.  This year it was in Austin, Texas, so I booked the cheapest flight I could find, happy that it was on one of the well-known national carriers, thinking that might increase the likelihood of a smooth flight experience. It didn’t.  
 

It’s never a good sign when you arrive at your gate and the jetway is not nuzzling up to an airplane. It’s even worse when they tell you at your scheduled departure time that the airplane that should be connected to that jetway is actually 500 miles away sitting at another airport. However, the agent said with too little empathy, “That plane is still coming to Pittsburgh to get yinz, and it should arrive in a couple hours.”
 

Ugh, that means missing my connecting flight. 
 

I did miss that connecting flight and I also would have missed the later one I was rebooked onto, except for the fact that it was delayed significantly as well. Sounds like good news, right? Not exactly. The delays meant that I would arrive in Austin AFTER my rental car agency closed. Thankfully, I was able to reach them before they locked the doors and prevailed on some poor soul to wait for me to arrive. He asked if the plane would get there when the airline said. Great question!
 

 The agent promised to wait until 2am, which, as it turns out, gave me just enough time to sprint from the gate to the rental counter after the plane landed. Mission accomplished — well, almost. The weary-eyed agent said they had messed up the reservation and had given my car to someone else. “But,” he added, “I am willing to give you the one vehicle I have left. How would you like a minivan?” The truth was, I didn’t want a minivan and it turned out I wouldn’t need anywhere near that amount of cargo space, because once I backtracked to baggage claim I discovered my luggage had been lost! 
 

Circumstances eventually improved, though not prior to one early morning run. Leaving the room at 6am, the temp was already in excess of 80 degrees, though I didn’t actually mind the heat.  I would just cool off with a nice shower upon returning to my room. Or not. Now drenched in sweat, I learned that the shower was not working and that I was scheduled to soon be with others representing Pathway!  
 

You’ll be pleased to know I found a way to remove the layers of sweat and accompanying odor before anyone recommended removing Pathway from the denomination. You also will be pleased to know that apart from the turbulent beginning to the trip, it was an excellent conference spent with many others who share our heart for the gospel and reaching people with the love of Jesus Christ.  
 

There were a number of highlights to the conference including great times of worship led by the teams of Austin Oaks EFC, along with great messages from the likes of D.A. Carson, Jared Alcantara, Kevin Kompelein, president of the EFCA, and others.  There also were numerous intensive sessions to choose from and I benefited from presentations on creativity in ministry, LGBTQ issues and more.  The gathered delegates also adopted a resolution advancing the biblical definition of marriage and began the discussion of a proposed amendment to the ninth article of our statement of faith regarding eschatology.  Our congregation will have the opportunity to interact on that subject in the days to come.  The soonest the proposal could be acted on nationwide is at the 2019 conference.  Pathway will be able to speak into the proposal and also make its own decision on the potential change. 
 

I also had the opportunity to connect with several friends, fellow pastors, Pathway missionaries and denominational leaders during my time in Texas. One of them who is familiar with Pathway spoke of the great things he is aware of and commended you as a church family for the impact you’re making. I enjoyed telling others about your generous heart and willingness to make sacrifices for people you haven’t even met.  Those who didn’t know about Pathway said it sounds like we have a great congregation. I said, “We sure do.” 
 

The events of EFCA One are still vivid in my mind and I’d be happy to tell you more about it. It remains fresh in my mind because it was an excellent conference and it just ended. In fact, I am writing this as I sit in the airport waiting for my return flight home. It turns out I’ll have plenty of time to write. They just announced my flight is delayed.
 

Backyard tree not exactly the apple of my eye …

I’ve been in a pruning mood. It’s a good thing, too, because there is a lot of pruning to be done in my yard. You see, the previous homeowner thought it would be nice to have a few pieces of home-grown fruit, but instead of planting a tree or two, he planted an orchard! Have you seen the rows and rows of trees at Peace Valley? Exactly!
 

OK, my backyard doesn’t have rows and rows — anymore! That’s because this year I pruned a couple of the trees right at the ground. Yep, I cut them down altogether. The problem wasn’t that they weren’t producing, it’s that they were producing too much and that my annual ritual was annoying. As fall would approach, one apple tree in particular filled with sub-standard fruit and then the seemingly angry tree would begin to spitefully spit the fruit onto the ground below. So for several weeks, I had a choice to make.
 

Option 1 — Ignore the fruit on the ground and mow over it. Eventually, the fruit would rot, then it would attract bees, rodents and other unsavory guests before it killed the grass. There also was the issue that prior to rotting, the hard, dense apples could get picked up by the mower and be shot as projectiles throughout the neighborhood, breaking windows and knocking children off their bicycles. 
 

Option 2 — Pick up every piece of fruit by hand. It was not unusual to pick up multiple five-gallon pails every few days. However, fearing one of my flying apples would put an elderly neighbor in the hospital, I always went with Option 2. Not any more! This year I went with … 
 

Option 3 — Cut it down.
 

The interesting thing about that tree was that it looked like it was thriving. It had grown tall, the leaves were a rich green and it provided some nice shade if you wanted to sit beneath it at your own risk. The problem, however, was that it wasn’t thriving — not as an apple tree. Green leaves aside, a quality apple tree isn’t tall and it’s not a good shade tree either. A quality tree is one that is pruned to be smaller and airy so it can be sprayed to prevent disease and so the sun can reach the fruit. My tree looked healthy, but it wasn’t.
 

My tree reminds me of a lot of some people trying to follow Jesus. If you look at them, they are growing and look healthy. There is something that is being produced by them and maybe even some fruit. But if you look more closely, you can see that there are some very serious issues. For one thing, the fruit being produced in their life is diseased and never ripens to maturity before it is spit out and rots away. For another, they may have worked to grow in a way that is reminiscent of a different species, but in so doing, negates their ability to do what they were intended to do. How many times do we pursue our own interests and possibly even make some headway in producing it in our own strength, but all the while we miss out on the calling of God or the purpose for which He has made us?
 

The problem with my apple tree was that it was neglected. It wasn’t pruned when it should have been and it wasn’t sprayed when it was vulnerable. That didn’t kill it, but it rendered it worthless in fulfilling its purpose. Eventually, the best choice was to cut it down, extensive branches, green leaves, broad shade and all.
 

If we’re going to avoid the problem of my apple tree, we need to make sure we’re not neglecting the basic principles for developing a thriving spiritual life.
There are times when we must prune something that might LOOK good in the moment, for the sake of what IS good in the big picture. Jesus used this pruning analogy in John 15 to let us know that it’s not OK to just produce something, we are to be focused on producing the right things. Evaluate your own heart and life to see if you are getting rid of the things that might be good, but aren’t best, and if you’re pursuing the things that will line you up to fulfill God’s purpose in you. If not, start pruning.
 

I didn’t get rid of the entire orchard in my yard. I have another apple tree, a peach tree and a pear tree. I’m doing my best to prune them and care for them as necessary to see what can be produced. Perhaps with some intentionality, there will be a good harvest in the months to come. If there is, I’ll be sure to write about it. If not, look out neighbors!


— Pastor Jeff

 

Running on empty? Just keep going …

Many of you know that a few years ago, I took up running. This is something I once boldly declared I would never do. It’s not that I didn’t like running — I actually HATED running! OK, I didn’t hate it in all forms. If there was a ball to be dribbled or a pass to be caught I could do it for hours. But to run? I mean, just to RUN? No thanks!

 

For one thing, most runners I knew either collapsed or vomited violently at the finish line, and for another, I couldn’t bring myself to wear those tiny little runner shorts that expose the white part of one’s thighs above the tan line. Come to think of it, that sight might be why runners vomit violently in the first place. But now, with the advent of longer running shorts I figured, why not give it a try?

 

When I started running, it was just for the exercise. I didn’t even think about doing any races. However, when Pathway’s own Mukti 5K came around, I entered. After all, it was for a great cause. Since I didn’t die, I decided to try a 10K and then a half-marathon. And since I didn’t have anyone to talk sense into me, I signed up for a marathon — and then another. I have heard it said that you run your first marathon for the sense of accomplishment and you run your second because your body forgot to tell your brain how miserable you were during the first one. Well, my body should start talking more, because I’ve continued to sign up.

 

Some of you are aware that I just ran another marathon in Boston. Honestly, it was  the fulfillment of a dream. It is a very special and historic race and it was a privilege just to qualify for it, let alone complete it. I had the opportunity to race the same course that day with many of the world’s elite runners. I’m not suggesting they were a lot faster than me, but let’s just say that by the time I finished, they could have received their prize, showered, eaten dinner and been on a plane back to their homes!

 

However, the speed of the elites, or of any other runner, for that matter, really isn’t an issue for the majority of mortals in the race. Unless you have a chance to beat the other 30,000 runners, you’re not running against people, you’re running against the clock. Everyone is out for a “P.R.,” which stands for personal record. I actually set one in this year’s Boston Marathon — for my worst ever! It was tough going.

 

There were reasons for my struggle I’d be happy to bore you with if you ask, but regardless of the causes, my legs were rebelling. Yet, there were a few things that kept me running miles beyond what seemed possible. Among those was the sense of accomplishment, but as the miles increased, along with the pain, the most significant motivation was that I knew Carolyn was up ahead to cheer me on. Carolyn has been at all of my marathons and has made it a priority to see me multiple times in each race. That has meant navigating her way by car through the streets of Los Angeles, riding subway trains in Chicago and walking untold miles to designated meeting places along the course. For the Boston Marathon, she spent hours pouring over public transit schedules figuring out how she could see me in the most places.

 

Then she donned a bright orange hat, made a pole with a neon flag and green polka dot balloon on top, and waved it wildly so I wouldn’t miss her as I ran past. And knowing she was up ahead along the course was instrumental in encouraging me and motivating me to keep going.

 

While I was running in Boston, I was well aware that Carolyn’s presence ahead of me was pulling me along. In fact, it caused a couple verses from Hebrews to roll through my mind shortly after I passed her near mile 21. Those verses say, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 

Those verses are talking about a marathon. No, not one that’s measured by 26.2 miles, but one that is measured by a lifetime. The truth is, we are all in a race and elsewhere the Apostle Paul tells us to press on in running that race for ourselves. But these verses tell us we are also all spectators in the race of others and we have a responsibility to help them run. You probably have some people around you who are struggling in their race and they may be ready to give up. You can’t let that happen. You need to start waving your flag and cheering to spur them on toward finishing their race well. You might even have to figure out how to navigate your way to where they need you most so they won’t stop short of the goal. The way you provide that motivation may differ from person to person, but you can’t give up so they won’t either.

 

— Pastor Jeff
 

All for the gospel ...

All for the gospel ...

On a chilly weekend in the middle of March, the people of Pathway got a sneak peek at the inside of the new children’s wing. It wasn’t a tour, so to speak. Instead, it was an opportunity to write a message or prayer or scripture on the walls and floor of the building.

Now, writing on walls sounds more like an act of vandalism or something a disobedient child would do — yes, I got into trouble for that once — but this wasn’t that at all. With about four months to go in the construction project, the beams and studs and concrete floors were still exposed and those written thoughts are being encased behind walls and under carpets as permanent expressions of our hearts before God. They are messages of hope and inspiration for the children who will grow inside those walls, and for the adults who will lead them. 

 

 

In addition to the many written reflections, the time in the new building induced several comments such as, “I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” or, “I can already see children coming to Jesus within these walls.” I can see children coming to Jesus in those walls, too, which has always been a primary motivator of erecting the building in the first place. All of what we do at Pathway is driven by the desire to see people come to faith in Christ and grow deeply in their love for Him. That is certainly true when we think about children, but also youth and adults as well. There is no more powerful message we have to proclaim than the gospel of Jesus Christ, who entered our world to solve our sin problem, died to rescue us and rose again victorious over death. That’s what gets us up in the morning at Pathway and the evidence is the extremely high percentage of people who are partnering with us to make this facility a reality.

 

 

Of course, the ALL IN initiative that stands behind this project also has seen tremendous success in its other phases. Those include providing clean water wells in Liberia and developing our global partnership in Kenya. Through the generosity of Pathway Church, we are providing several more wells and a team recently returned from Kenya after advancing the partnership in Orkarkar. These projects also are a demonstration of our commitment to the gospel, for they also have the ultimate goal of seeing people come to know Christ and grow in Him.

 

 

Beyond the ALL IN initiatives, we could highlight many, many other areas where the gospel has motivated us to move ahead, but one that comes immediately to mind is the Moon Campus. Our campus just turned 4 years old and continues to shine the light of Christ in a region beyond the Chippewa Campus. It is fulfilling the goal of expanding our reach to others who need to hear the good news of Jesus. I’m so grateful for all those who have given of themselves to carry on the work in Moon.

 

 

I look forward to seeing how the gospel will continue to change lives through the influence of Pathway Church. I call you to have a hand in sharing the love of Jesus with others. You can do that through your own personal witness and also by inviting others to join you for worship at Pathway. Easter is just around the corner and what a wonderful opportunity it is to bring a friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member with you to engage with the message of the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Pastor Jeff

Top 5 Orkarkar Moments …

As most of you know, Pathway Church established a global partnership with the church and community of Orkarkar in southern Kenya three years ago. You may also know that I recently returned from there with our short-term mission team that went to serve our Maasai friends. I have been asked numerous times for the highlight of the trip. That is an impossible question to answer, because there are dozens of highlights. However, I took on the challenge of narrowing it down to a top five. Truth be told, I’ve changed the list several times already, and I’m wishing this was a top 20 instead. Here goes …

 

5 – Amos’ Desk: Amos is the headmaster of the school in Orkarkar and is a humble servant and fervent lover of Jesus. It came to my attention at the end of our trip that Amos needed a desk where he could work and lock up some valuable files and materials. So with the odds and ends of what was left of our lumber and our time, I set out to provide him with something that could serve his needs. I will never forget the look on his face or his deep expression of gratitude when he was presented with the desk. 

 

4 – Fence Line Sunrise: The activities in Orkarkar started early every morning, but before they did, I enjoyed sneaking out of the tent as quietly as I could (my tent-mates might tell you it wasn’t very quiet) and walking the fence line that surrounded the hope center site. It was a marvelous time to just be quiet with God, to thank Him for the people of Orkarkar and to pray for all the activities that would happen on the site that day and for all the days to come. There was the added benefit of being able to watch a beautiful sunrise each morning. 

 

3 – Serving with Our Team: It was a tremendous blessing to serve alongside our short-term team. Each member worked hard, served selflessly and made a huge contribution to all that was accomplished during our time in the village. Even when the unexpected twists and challenges sprang up, like personal luggage arriving two days late, or being assigned a tent with a snorer(!), everyone made the most of it.

 

2 – Looking Back: One morning during my daily fence line excursion, when I looked back at the buildings we have constructed to this point, I was overwhelmed with the sight of it all. I’m not sure I understood all of what was hitting me in the moment, but I believe it was a combination of being able to be a part of bringing hope to such a remote and needy part of the world, the progress of the partnership with the Maasai that has resulted in so much so quickly, and the heart of the people of Pathway Church — for their willingness to pray and sacrifice for people on the other side of the world they may never meet. 

 

1 – Advancing the Gospel: This particular moment of advancing the gospel was given expression all week long through the children’s Bible school, women’s Bible study, men’s Bible study, and during individual conversations. It culminated on Sunday, our final day in the village, as we worshiped alongside our Maasai brothers and sisters in the Lord, most of whom have come to faith in the past year or two. How exciting it was to sing and pray and preach in that context. I will NEVER tire of the sound of worship being raised to God, out of hearts that have come to love Him through the advancement of the gospel.   

 

So there are my top five moments. I’d encourage you to talk to some of the other team members and ask about theirs. Then, why not sign up for the next Kenya trip and establish your own top five? 

 

Pastor Jeff
 

Nugget of wisdom: It’s February, so express your love …

 

 

February, with Valentine’s Day right in the middle, is often referred to as the month of love. It is a time when dating couples and spouses make expressions of their love for one another. Of course, traditional gifts include a simple card with a syrupy verse, a box of chocolates, an arrangement of flowers, or an evening out. However, I personally favor a gift I saw recently, which looks like a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates, but when you open it up, all the little candy wrappers are filled with chicken nuggets and dipping sauce. These are some of the ways you can express your love for someone else this February and I’d encourage you to go for it.

 

As important as those expressions are, there are some other demonstrations of love taking place this February that also have captured our attention at Pathway. Even as this newsletter is being distributed, we have a team serving the Lord in the Dominican Republic. They are sharing their love for the people and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. A little later in the month, another team will be traveling to Kenya to advance the partnership we have established with the Massai people of Orkarkar. The Kenya team will be expressing its love by further developing friendships with people we have come to know over multiple trips. We also will express our love through practical acts of compassion by addressing physical and spiritual needs, as well as adding classrooms to the school that was started on a previous trip. I urge you to be praying for these expressions of love, that even though the people served are on opposite sides of the globe, they would understand the oneness that exists wherever the love of Jesus is made known.

 

On an even more personal note, I want to thank you for your expressions of love, prayers and support for our family as Carolyn’s father recently passed away unexpectedly. Myron was a man known for his dry sense of humor, gentleness and faithful walk with the Lord. You have heard me urge people to not retire from their work for the Lord when they retire from their work for others, and Carolyn’s dad was my hero in that regard. He greatly looked forward to his retirement because of a longing he had, together with his wife Janet, to do volunteer work for some of their favorite organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators, Cru and Child Evangelism Fellowship. Their volunteer work in recent years took them to Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and even Belgium, serving and loving others all along the way. Myron will be greatly missed, but we rejoice that his faith has been turned to sight!

 

I don’t know what your February will hold, but don’t let it pass without expressing your love for others. Yes, those in your family to be sure, but also those whose lives the Lord gives you the opportunity to touch.

 

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” — 1 John 4:16

 

Pastor Jeff

Let conviction, not the calendar, guide your resolutions ...

Happy New Year!

 

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? If you did, have you broken it yet? If you are reading this on New Year’s Day, there is a 99 percent chance you haven’t broken it yet, according to statistical data. If you are reading this at the end of January, there is a 40 percent chance you haven’t broken it yet. If you are reading this in July, well, there’s always next year! The truth is, we struggle with keeping resolutions.

 

It is reported that 45 percent of Americans engage in the annual ritual of making a New Year’s resolution. However, only 8 percent of those who make the commitment to something new actually achieve it. And do you want to guess what the number one resolution made by Americans might be? I’ll give you a hint. It is not to do an epic mannequin challenge, get better at your hoverboard moves or own a Hatchimal, as worthy as those pursuits might be. The pinnacle resolution is to lose weight. That goal has topped the list for many years running. Also featured among the top 10 resolutions are getting organized, spending less and falling in love.

 

Personally, I have mixed feelings about resolutions. Certainly the desire to work on areas of one’s life that need improvement is admirable. Making commitments like following God more closely, reading through the Bible or overcoming some sin are valuable endeavors that should be pursued. But why a NEW YEAR’S resolution? It’s a natural starting point. Perhaps we’ve done a little reflecting and would desire something new, so the dawn of a new year seems to be a perfect time for initiating the change. But is it?

 

The fact that the step you’re taking is a NEW YEAR’S resolution may actually suggest it is a lesser commitment rather than greater. That is because the commitment is driven by the calendar, not by conviction. A change that is made out of genuine conviction is a change that we must embrace immediately. If you’ve been persuaded by the Lord to remove a certain sin from your life, it makes no sense to say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll stop that sin beginning January 1.” Anything we are able to put off to some point in the future is a commitment to which we’re not very committed. That’s why so many NEW YEAR’S resolutions fail. The perfect time to make that resolution is the precise moment the conviction comes upon you.

 

So, is it wrong to make a New Year’s resolution? Absolutely not, if that is when the conviction to act strikes. But if you are moved to act on December 30 or April 5 or August 22, that would be the right time. The most important step is that we prayerfully listen to the Lord and respond the moment He calls. I pray that this year, for you and me, would be one filled with hearing from the Lord and responding — immediately.

 

Blessings on your 2017!

 

Pastor Jeff

Where the Action Is ...

I have a confession to make. It is something I know will likely cause a loss of respect from many of you. I have not done it often, but the peer pressure was great and in a moment of weakness I gave in. And what is this heinous act, you ask? I went to the mall on Black Friday. That’s right, I joined the masses in search of the deal of all deals to make navigating the crowds worth it. And yes, there were crowds!

 

I knew what I was in for far before the mall was even in sight as the road leading to the entrance was backed up for nearly a mile. As the traffic inched its way toward the mall itself, I began to notice cars parked in odd places. They were parallel parked on the perimeter roads. They were parked on grassy boulevards and up on curbs. I was fully prepared to take the farthest spot from the mall itself, but it was taken, too. I was seriously considering turning around and going back home and I might have if this particular mall wasn’t an hour from home. There also was the issue that I had family members inside the mall I had dropped off when we first arrived —30 minutes earlier! So I resorted to the only tactic left to find a space, I started car-stalking people walking away from the mall, trailing them stealthily toward their vehicles. Despite the fact that the first stalkee was only returning to his car to drop off his purchases and return to the mall (ugh!), eventually I found a space!

 

I’d love to tell you that once inside the mall all those people who came in all those cars were barely noticeable, but I’ve seen smaller crowds at Steelers’ playoff games. Seeing the people and the lines made me wonder for a moment why we chose to go to the mall that day. Truthfully, we knew it would be crazy, but sometimes it is just fun to be where the action is. That’s why we go to concerts and games and light-up night celebrations (which we also did on Black Friday night). Being where the action is also explains what I love about Christmas at Pathway.

 

In this Christmas season we’re going to see lots of action. Some that moves my heart most is the way people give generously of themselves to help others in need. We’ve already seen it with over 100 Pathway volunteers serving 300 meals through our Thanksgiving outreach. If you have been on the Chippewa Campus, you have seen the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes filling up the foyer. Then there is the Angel Tree project, which provides gifts for the children and families of prison inmates at this vital time of year, expressing the love of Christ at the same time. There also is the opportunity to give joy to the world in the form of clean water this season. I hope you will plan to get in on the action and take part in these endeavors.

 

You are also going to want to get in on the worship action this season. In addition to our regular weekend worship, there will be a special Christmas worship celebration as a part of our services at the Chippewa campus on December 10/11. We will be offering several Christmas Eve services at the Chippewa and Moon campuses as well. We are also planning a special family worship service for Christmas morning. All of this is for the purpose of celebrating Jesus entering into our world as a baby to be a king. Be sure to check out this newsletter or the Pathway website for times and locations.

 

Have a blessed Christmas season and I hope you often find yourself where the action is!

 

Merry Christmas!
Pastor Jeff

Mom certainly was All In; I'm grateful you are, too!

Mom loved Pathway. Though living several states away, she loved to visit and attended many worship services over the years. She enjoyed the people she met and spoke of your kindness. She prayed every day for my ministry and the work of the church. It all helped her have a feel for the church when she would listen to sermons on CD and online. And she heard a lot of them! In addition to listening to each weekend’s message as soon as it was posted online, she and dad would binge listen to a whole series at a time on a road trip to one destination or another. Thankfully, they stayed awake while listening and driving.

 

I’m going to miss mom’s input about sermons and so many other things very much. As many of you know, she passed away about three weeks ago. It has definitely been a time of great loss, but the truth is our joy s full as we have the confidence of knowing her hope was in the Lord and that HER joy is even fuller! It also has been a tremendous comfort to receive so many cards and notes from the Pathway family. We have been overwhelmed and want to thank all of you for your love, prayers and support. You have carried us along in these days.

 

One of the places mom would always stop before a service at Pathway was the café. As for the rumor that she needed caffeine to make it through my sermon, that was never confirmed. The truth is, the café is a popular stop for individuals needing their coffee to get going and families getting donuts and other goodies not found at home. We’re glad we’re going to continue to offer the café after the remodeling of the building. In fact, it is one of the areas slated for improvements. My hat goes off to those who have made the café work without as much as a sink or running water. Fortunately, the construction plans include remedying that situation.

 

The plans, of course, also include the completion of the new children’s wing and enhancements to rooms serving youth and adults. They include the advancement of the Kenya partnership in the remote village of Orkarkar, as well as the development of several clean water wells in needy regions of Liberia. Great progress is being made in all those areas thanks to the generosity of the people of Pathway.

 

This month will mark the one-year anniversary of the kickoff of the All In initiative. It was just one year ago that we experienced a move of God in our midst when a very large percentage of our congregation went All In with God and subsequently stepped up to fund the project. I am so thankful for all those who have taken part. I also have learned of others who weren’t with us at that time, or who weren’t able to engage, who are interested in getting involved now. There are still others who did take part, who have since felt moved of the Lord to do something additional. This anniversary season seems to be a good time to make that happen and you are encouraged to prayerfully consider how the Lord would be calling you to respond. We are targeting November 12/13 as the weekend to initiate or renew pledges and gifts.

 

As the Thanksgiving season approaches, I know I am deeply thankful for you. You have stepped up to make ministry possible in our community and around the world. At the same time, you have truly ministered to my heart and that of my family. What a blessing we all have in Pathway Church, and what a blessing I have in you!

 

In Thanksgiving,
Pastor Jeff

Discovering a kernel of truth at dentist’s office …

Discovering a kernel of truth at dentist’s office …

I have decided that eating popcorn is the dental equivalent to Russian roulette. You just never know when you’re going to encounter an unpopped kernel that could do damage to your pearly whites. Unfortunately, I recently had just such a run-in and the kernel won, shearing off the corner of a tooth.

 

Of course, I immediately called the dentist to explain my malady, asking for the earliest possible appointment. I was hoping for something that afternoon or possibly the next morning. She offered me, “two weeks from Thursday.” I said, “You must not have understood, I broke my tooth.” She replied, “Oh, in that case I can offer you …“two weeks from Thursday.”

 

Thankfully, I was able to get in on a cancellation and found myself lying on the dental chair with the little bib chained around my neck and the curved light overhead. If you’ve ever been to the dentist before you know the drill, so to speak. The dentist decided I needed to be numbed before doing the work, so out came the needle. She said I’d feel a little pinch. She lied. It felt like she was driving a spike between my cheek and gum. But, it was effective and my tongue, cheek and lip were soon hanging uselessly from the bones of my jaw.

 

For some reason, this is the moment the dentist decided to ask me questions. “So, where are you a pastor?” “Uh, Paffway Chuuch,” I said, as the drool ran down my chin. Obviously convinced that the Novocain was working, she stopped the questions and started sticking torturous instruments in my mouth.

 

While I was lying there wishing I had waited for two weeks from Thursday, I actually started wondering if there was something to be learned from this experience. Most of the things that came to my mind had to do with never returning to the dentist. Eventually, after the whirring of the drill stopped, the numbness wore off and I could once again keep my saliva in my mouth, it occurred to me that we all have life experiences that parallel a visit to the dentist.

 

The dentist that day was putting me through pain — and seemed to be enjoying it, I might add. But, the pain was a necessary experience on the path to better health. The condition of the tooth was such that left unattended, it would have rotted, caused even greater pain and probably brought an infection that could have spread. It was the repair, through the accompanying pain, that allowed for the best possible outcome.

 

In our spiritual lives, there also is going to be inevitable pain. We live in a fallen world and it happens. It is never fun to face, but it has a purpose. God takes the pain in our lives and uses it to bring greater health. In fact, it typically leads us to new heights we couldn’t have achieved apart from the struggle. That is true if we lean on God to help us through the hardship. In that regard, the Apostle Paul knew the power of pain and said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

 

— Pastor Jeff

 

The only shore thing is swimming in God's grace ...


Are you a beach person? That question was put to me for the first time AFTER moving to Pennsylvania. Since I was born and raised in Chicago and nearby regions, I might be asked if I were a “north-sider” or a “south-sider,” which is essentially asking if I root for the Cubs or the White Sox. But no one ever asked me about the beach.

 

So the first time someone in Pennsylvania told me they were going to the beach I wondered, are they talking about Brady’s Run or maybe Lake Tomahawk? I didn’t know it was code for a trip to the Atlantic.  

 

But now I know. In fact, I have now taken a number of trips to the beach myself, including this summer. They have featured things like jellyfish stings, shark sightings and sunburns, which leave me asking, “Now, why do I go to the beach?” This year it was rip tides.  On our final day, the rip tide warnings were out in a big way. Newscasts were highlighting the expected dangers of the deadly currents, my phone was flashing alerts and the lifeguards had posted warning flags near the water and on signs to advise all would-be swimmers of the threats.  

 

I was curious to see how the potential dangers would influence the behavior of beach-goers that day. It didn’t. The water was populated as it had been every other day. Parents too tired to build yet another sand castle with their preschoolers were saying, “The water looks fun today, why don’t you go play in it.” And they did. I did, too.  

 

Now, as far as I know, no children were swept out into the ocean that day, but it did cause me to reflect a little bit once I was back on the beach, deepening the crimson tones of my sunburn. Why, when we know of the presence of danger in our lives, and I’m thinking primarily of our spiritual lives, do we willingly put ourselves in its path?  We have the warnings of others, the signs from God’s word, the flags of danger, but we ignore them. Perhaps our inattention is because we don’t think the problem applies to us, or that the malady won’t actually materialize, as I’m sure it was with my beach-going peers. But, it is that casual attitude toward spiritual danger, or sin, that leaves us vulnerable. That’s why Paul, when writing in 1 Timothy 6 about all sorts of traps and dangers, says in verse 11, “But you, man of God, flee from all this.”  We shouldn’t be surprised when we play around dangers and get taken into deeper waters of sin and drown in our own waywardness.  

 

Another reality struck me as I inhabited the tiny island of shade my beach umbrella was providing that day — the manner in which one escapes a rip tide. The natural inclination when being forced from the shore is to head straight back toward it. However, that is the worst approach possible. The power of the current will quickly tire the one who is trapped and the resulting fatigue is typically the reason people die in rip tides.  

 

The simple and effective method for overcoming a rip tide is to swim parallel to the shore line, which will provide far less resistance and bring the nearest relief from the powerful current going out to sea. How many times in our spiritual lives do we find ourselves trapped in the strong currents of sin and temptation, desiring to find relief, so we just try to reverse course and back out the way we came in. It makes sense on the surface and even seems the spiritually expedient thing to do, but we don’t make the progress we think we should or we just keep getting pulled back in. That is because we’ve chosen the wrong path to freedom.  

 

Could it be that our best path to victory over sin isn’t to just commit to fight the current, reverse course and stop sinning as best we can, but to escape the temptation by a different route?  If we’re going to find the ultimate victory, we need to escape the danger by swimming in a different direction, if you will, toward God’s forgiveness and promises. It is only as we acknowledge that we don’t have the power to save ourselves, and start resting on the work of Christ, that we can truly overcome. On this point Paul wrote about the guidance the Lord gave him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul added, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9).  The grace we all need to overcome doesn’t come through our own might. It comes through swimming into the arms of the One who promises to apply His strength to our need.  

 

So, am I a beach person? Probably not, but I’ve learned some powerful lessons there. And if you ask me to go, I’ll at least know you’re not inviting me to Darlington Lake.

 

— Pastor Jeff
 

Even our golden moments don't define us ...

As August arrives, the eyes of the world are going to be on Rio de Janeiro, the site of the XXXI Olympiad. Of course, there has been great anticipation for the games and also great controversy regarding the preparedness of the venues and the city in general. However, once the games begin, I doubt it will put a damper on the excitement of seeing the world’s athletes vying for Olympic gold. 

 

I expect you have some favorite Olympic moments. For many people it is the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” that I don’t even need to describe for you, because you already know. Or, perhaps, it is Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in 1936 in Berlin, when the color of his skin was thought to make him an inferior athlete. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Or maybe your moment would have to do with Michael Phelps or Nadia Comaneci or the Jamaican Bobsled Team. 

 

Many others, no doubt, fondly remember the “Magnificent Seven,” the women’s gymnastics team that won the first team gold medal for the USA in 1996. They were hailed as heroes and were celebrated in every conceivable fashion for years afterward. I’m guessing you can still picture Kerri Strug vaulting on a severely injured ankle and “sticking” the landing to secure the victory. 

 

The entire team sat down for an interview on this, the 20th anniversary of their epic performance. They reflected on what the win was like, how America responded and how it changed their lives forever. Then, Dominique Dawes, one of the seven, said something that shocked me. She said winning Olympic gold isn’t even in the top 10 moments of her life. What?! It changed her life forever, but it isn’t even near the top of her list. Listening to the interview, it was clear that she wasn’t diminishing her Olympic experience at all. She was elevating the other events that have shaped her life, such as children and other relationships.

 

Dawes’ statement caused me to reflect on how often a person is marked by a single life experience that shapes who they are and who they become. For some people, it is a positive experience, as with Dominique, but it ends up defining their life and other people see them only through that lens. Certainly there would be advantages, but also many disadvantages as one would get pigeonholed into that mold. Worse yet, a person could come to believe their own identity or real worth is tied to that one experience, rather than the breadth of who they are and what they have to offer. 

 

On the flipside, there are many others who have one life event define them, only it is a negative circumstance, bad choice or tragic incident that has put them on a pathway of persistent pain. It has become an anchor they carry around, longing to be free. Oftentimes, there are constant reminders from people and lasting consequences of the circumstance that went wrong.  

 

Each of these mindsets can be confining and debilitating. To give in to the notion that a life can be defined so narrowly is to miss the expanse of who God created you to be. Many of us would respond that our single greatest life event is putting our trust in Christ, and that may be true, but even then it should lead to the expanse of all it means to be a Christ follower, from disciple to worshiper to witness and on and on. Is there an event, either positive or negative, that overwhelmingly influences how you see yourself or how others see you? I would urge you to hold on to the best of it (if there is anything), and then put it in your rearview mirror and move on. Don’t allow the good to lead you to settling and resting in a past accomplishment as an indicator of present growth. And don’t allow the bad to keep you under its thumb, influencing what you believe is possible for the future. 

 

The scriptures remind us that we serve a God who is making all things new. We’re not stuck and we must not be stagnant. There is a hope and a future God has in store for us. So, as you watch the Olympic games, be reminded that no one moment, however great or small, should ever define a life. 

- Pastor Jeff

 

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on!

You may be familiar with that song made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957. Big Maybelle (not a particularly flattering name for a female singer) was actually the first to record it, but it was Lewis’ rendition that made it to number one on the charts and the only one you have probably heard. 

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That very song has been running through my head lately because there’s been a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on at Pathway — literally! The site work for our new children’s wing has begun and several large machines have been digging, bulldozing and compacting the dirt, preparing it for footings and a concrete pad. In addition to rolling the dirt, one of the machines (pictured, at right) has a feature where it violently shakes as it rolls to improve the compaction. Well, it doesn’t just shake and roll the dirt, it shakes everything else around. This picture was taken out of my office window. It came so close that some of the items on my desk were moving. My desk chair vibrated like an expensive one. It made for an interesting day and it is very exciting to see progress being made on the construction site.   

 

There are other things shakin’ at Pathway as well. It was great fun to recently have LOTS of children in the building for Sonzone Jr. and Sonzone day camps. The kids worshiped, learned about God and learned other skills as well. I couldn’t help but think about the blessing the new space will be for ministry endeavors such as these. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made those experiences a reality for our kids.  

 

Something else that is shakin’ right now is another opportunity to be baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ. One of the annual highlights at Pathway is our outdoor baptism service at Darlington Lake. It is a time to hear how the Lord has been moving in people’s hearts and lives, and support them as they take this significant spiritual step. You may be interested in being baptized yourself and we invite you to join us. 

 

This year’s baptism service will be at 6pm on Sunday, July 17. The setting of Darlington Lake makes it the perfect outdoor environment to take this vital step of faith in Christ. If you are interested in being baptized, there is a one-hour class you can attend to learn more about baptism and the details for taking part. The class will be at 9am on Saturday, July 9, at the Chippewa Campus. If you are not able to attend, but are still interested in taking part, please contact the church office at 724.843.6381 or at jweister@lifeatpathway.com.  

 

One other thing shakin’ at Pathway in July is welcoming two new elders onto the board. They are Dave Layton and Bryan Hazelwood. We look forward to the contribution each of them will make to the direction our church is headed. The downside is that two individuals are also leaving the board after fulfilling their terms.  They are John Marx and Tom Whetsel. Both men have served with distinction and I will miss their presence on the board greatly. 

 

I’m grateful to be able to serve a church where there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. The Lord has given us many opportunities to reach our community and beyond, and also help those in our ministry grow deep in faith and commitment. We are striving to be faithful to that call. So, look for more shakin’ in the days to come! 

- Pastor Jeff